Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Space" Above and Beyond" are the creations of Glen Morgan and James Wong, Fox Broadcasting and Hard Eight Productions, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended.
However, "Six Against The Dealer" and all its episodes, as well as all non-canon characters, especially Morgan Tyler, Jordan Rain, Sarah Cullen, Mariah Pagodin, and Hudson O'Neill (and whoever else I might think of in the course of writing this thing), are mine and should not be used or distributed without my express permission.
Also, the biases and prejudices found in this story are of the characters themselves and do not necessarily reflect my own beliefs.
Rating for this particular episode is R for language, violence and adult content. However, an NC-17 version is available upon request only. Email me at email@example.com or SeuneAeryk@hotmail.com. Yes, your name, age, rank and serial number will be required. I refuse to debate about censorship and compartmentalization of information. This is my story. The Marine Corps is not a democracy.
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Special greetings and thanks to the 7th Asian Airwing for keeping the faith on this side of the hemisphere.
SIX AGAINST THE DEALER - The Left Hand
"Adam and Eve"
She was driving him insane.
Lt. Cooper Hawkes lay awake on his bunk, unable to sleep. For seven weeks now, the woman that lay on the bunk across his had been getting on his nerves.
Morgan Rhianna Tyler. Captain. Callsign 'Ace of Spades.' He had protested violently against her use of the name. 'Ace' was Damphousse, everyone knew that. But she'd coldly laid claim to the name anyway.
"It doesn't matter," West had told him. "Vanessa's the Ace of Hearts."
And Shane was the Queen of Diamonds.
He didn't even understand why Tyler insisted on that name, why they had all made such a fuss over it. She didn't use the goddamn callsign anyway. Even her damn flight helmet still read 'Raven.'
No, he did understand. It was one more contest, one more power play, one more opportunity to prove her control.
As if they could forget.
As if it wasn't bad enough that they had to replace Shane, hard enough to see someone else sitting in her chair, they had to choose a bitch of the highest order -- belligerent, overbearing and undoubtedly psycho.
She was like… Ray Butts in a bra.
Not that she was, at the moment. From his own bunk he could see every inch of her, and there was no bra in evidence. She was sleeping sprawled face down on her bunk, _Shane's_ bunk, wearing nothing but a thin cotton top and boxer shorts. The Marine-issue sheets lay across her feet, where she'd kicked them twelve seconds after she'd fallen asleep.
Almost in spite of himself he kept looking. There was just something about her that drew his gaze; something fascinating, something petrifying.
She almost looked harmless, lying there. Black hair lay fanned across her pillow and down her back. It was crazy, but he was beginning to understand her hair, to recognize the patterns it made and predict just exactly how long it would take before the captured length and masses would free themselves from their bonds. Every night, carefully, ritualistically, she would arrange the dark strands into a braid but they always escaped anyway. As neat and as orderly as her hair was when she was awake, that's how unruly and disobedient it was when she slept, as if rebelling from the constant confinement.
His eyes followed the loose strands tracing the lines of her body through the thin cloth -- her neck, her shoulder blades, the small of her back. Her hips and long legs.
And from where he lay he could smell her -- almonds and cream.
He closed his eyes and thought of Shane.
He loved Shane. He'd known for a very long time. Watching her plane go down, he'd wanted to die. He had no problem, no problem at all with spending the rest of his life to looking for her and killing the ones that had hurt her.
He opened his eyes, strengthened by that certainty.
He loved Shane.
And this woman who now slept on Shane's bed, he was just as certain that he hated her. Hated everything about her. Hated her coldly-issued commands, hated her mocking smiles, hated her sadistic, calculating mind. He even hated her skill as a combat pilot -- the precision, the impeccable instincts and the cool, detached killings.
He and West had talked about it in hushed whispers -- the combat 'rush,' the adrenaline, the heightened senses, emotions, involved in battle, in danger, in teasing death. Not her. She could've been shooting at paper targets at the local gallery for all the emotion she'd display. During ground combat she was the same -- just as cold, just as efficient, just as detached. He doubted she had any emotions at all.
Scratch that. She had them. In spades. And for some reason still unclear to him, she'd apparently decided to get her kicks by making his life miserable. Every time he got near her he could feel the anger seething, simmering just under the surface. Maybe it was because he was an InVitro -- maybe she was one of those people who hated without reason, without logic.
Except he couldn't. At least not with the same relentless, unthinking ease that she could. Every time he thought he'd gotten a hold on his hate something would make him waver. A tilt of the head, a hint of a smile, an unexpected word that sounded like anger but echoed, somehow, of kindness. But they were just flashes, those moments of softness, dissipating even before they could be recognized and identified. He must have imagined them like he had imagined that woman on Tigris -- moments born out of madness; smoke and thunder, a trick of the light, a misheard inflection.
Take the way she had taken care of him on Gethen. The same woman who'd waved green meanies in his face, daring him to take a shot at her and destroy what little he had left of his life and sanity, had later saved both. She'd gone above and beyond, without hesitation, without misgivings. Without reprove, even. He'd thought that meant something. That maybe she didn't hate them all as much as she seemed to.
He'd tried to thank her, after he got out of medbay. He'd looked all over the ship, finally found her in the officer's lounge, sitting in front of a computer. For a moment he was reminded of Paul, who was always using the computer for one reason or another. When he didn't have his nose stuck in a book, that was.
She had glanced up briefly as she saw him, but went back to whatever she was doing, acknowledging his presence only when he was practically beside her.
"What are you doing out sickbay?"
He'd been slightly surprised by the curtness of the question, the annoyance in her voice. He'd stolen a glance at the console. What could be on the SpaceNet news service that was so riveting? She'd seemed pretty intent on whatever it was.
He should've taken the hint. Instead, fortified by their shared experience, he had plunged on.
"They released me," he had answered. "Said I just needed some rest and I'd be fine."
"Then why aren't you back at the barrack getting some?"
"The rest of us are going to the 'Tun to play some cards and relax," he had volunteered. "Do you want to come?"
"I'm busy," she had returned flatly.
"But you already gave Ross your report, and --."
"I said I'm busy," she had repeated in a sharper tone.
Despite his good intentions her tone had made him snap back.
She had spared him an irritated glance. "Thank me for what?"
He had blinked, not believing that she couldn't know. "For what you did… Back on that planet…"
She had shrugged dismissively. "Just doing my job."
He couldn't believe that either. "But --."
"Look, Lieutenant," she had interrupted coldly, impatiently. "You think I enjoyed our extended stay on Gethen? I didn't. Our mission was almost compromised, you almost died and I had to spend a very uncomfortable night on a planet that I had planned to be off of as fast as possible. I hate being cold, I hate sleeping on the ground, and most of all, I _hate_ having to make up for other people's failings. You think saying thank you makes up for all that?"
"I just thought --."
"You wanna thank me you make sure you never do it again. Now go away."
How was he supposed to make sense of that?
He didn't try. Instead he gone to the 'Tun and drunk one shot of bourbon after another, celebrating the restoration of the bitch and the revival of hostilities. So much for being civil. So much for making friends.
It was better this way anyway. This way he was sure about where he stood, about just exactly what she thought of him.
That only made him more angry, more determined to hate her. Because he still didn't understand. And because since that day -- that night -- he had been assailed by her presence. And damn her, it was probably nothing to her. Or worse, it was probably exactly what she wanted. It was probably another one of her little amusements, to confuse and befuddle him till he couldn't see straight and he had no choice but follow wherever she led.
And damn if it wasn't working.
Sometimes he thought that if she showed just the tiniest bit of compassion and caring it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe if she was just a little bit like Shane he wouldn't hate her so much. Then he realized that that would have made him hate her even more. Because then he wouldn't only resent her not being Shane, he'd resent her being like Shane. It was bad enough she had Shane's command without her trying to take Shane's place.
And that only confused him all over again.
He wondered if this was one of the things he would have understood if he'd been able to stay longer at that InVitro training facility. He seemed to have missed everything that had to do with human nature.
Morgan shifted, turning to lie on her side, and he was distracted by the face that came into view. Her eyes were closed but he knew they were green, dark green, the color of dew-kissed moss. Long, thick lashes lay against sculpted cheekbones, followed by a straight nose. Then, a beautiful mouth. When it wasn't set into a grim line, or stretched into a mocking smile, that was.
God, he had to stop thinking about her mouth.
And her hair.
And the way she smelled.
Almonds and cream.
He looked over to the other bunks, to the other new members of the 58. Lt. Jordan Blue Rain, callsign 'Black Jack.' What kind of name was 'Jordan Blue Rain,' anyway? He didn't know much about Rain yet, the man kept to himself mostly. Not even West, who was way better at making friends than he was had better luck at getting the guy to talk. Rain and Cullen had an easy, lighthearted relationship, full of quick wit and teasing, but he knew that was only because Cullen just brought out the lighter side in everyone. Rain wasn't that free and open with everyone. Sometimes Rain would go to the Tun to slug back a few beers with him, Cullen and West, but that was it. If there was anyone Rain really talked to, it was Tyler. Sometimes he would see them deep in serious discussion, their heads close together, their voices low. He couldn't explain it but that bothered him. A lot. He didn't like it at all.
And then there was Lt. Sarah Elizabeth Cullen, callsign 'Red Queen.' His buddy, a seemingly delicate and dainty thing. Rain once teased her about being a debutante and belonging in a high-society tearoom. Flaxen hair and baby-blue eyes, she had smiled sweetly up at Rain before flattening him with a punch like a stevedore's.
"You forgot about the bear-baiting and the alligator wrestling," she had added mildly.
Sarah was probably the only new addition to their squadron that he actually liked. She had a rough time for a while, after 'Styx' but she seemed to bounce back okay. She was sweet, cheerful, uncomplicated, and she could handle herself in a dogfight with the best of them. Not to mention that she was nice to have around when you got a little banged up during ground missions. When Rain had caught that graze on his thigh she had patched him up even before the regular medic could get to them.
He smiled, remembering how for once the Rain had lost his cool, refusing to let her near his wound.
"Don't worry," she had said cheerfully. "I promise to be impressed, whatever I see."
Funny bunch of people, he thought. Interesting in their own way.
But they weren't the 58th.
And their new Captain wasn't Shane.
He thought again of Shane.
He loved Shane. He was certain of it. Knew it with every beat of his genetically-engineered heart.
His gaze returned to the woman sleeping across from him.
He loved Shane.
But Shane never made him feel like this.
The problem with being angry is it requires so much energy, Morgan thought tiredly. And right now she didn't seem to have that much to spare. But exhausting or not, she had to hold on to the anger. The alternative would be so much worse. Anger was easier. She had learned that a long time ago.
There had been a renewed surge of attacks. Now the enemy was everywhere, attacking at all hours, and the more losses the Earth forces suffered, the greater the intensity of the Alien assault. Their new strategy seemed to be to overwhelm the humans with sheer numbers, leaving them no time to rest, no chance to plan their own attack, and no place for refuge.
The last sortie had been a disaster. They had encountered an enemy squadron in the eleventh hour of their 12-hour sortie and they had been tired. A Chig had shot off Cullen's right wing before they even realized they had been engaged. Ten minutes later Rain's SA-43 had a cracked, though thankfully not punctured cockpit, West had a dead number one engine, and Hawkes had scratched the side of her plane by shooting off his guns when he was flying too close. It was a miracle they weren't all dead. Then they, minus West, had to do another sweep of the area to make sure it was clear -- that had taken another three hours. She would have lectured, even screamed at them, but it wouldn't have done any good. They needed the sleep more.
It wasn't that they couldn't handle a twelve-hour sortie. It was just that they had just come back from a supply run and had slept a mere four hours prior that. Add the 15-hours outside, that amounted to a grand total of four hours sleep in the last fifty.
They weren't dead, but it sure felt like they were.
To make matters worse, they had gone out with two other squadrons and returned with only one. The 161st Paladins had been lured by a fake distress call and then ambushed. They were gone even before support could be deployed.
She shook her head, sorrow and resignation mixing into one gray lump in her chest. One more squadron was lost to the enemy, and the tragedy of it was all they could think about was the loss of the fighters, not the loss of lives. Someone would have to make up for that loss, someone would have to take that watch. Nine more people were dead and their first reaction was to pray that the task would fall on another squadron.
This was what the war had reduced them to -- uncaring bodies who cared more about sleep than lives, the sacred duty of safeguarding their home degraded into a mere chore, and a reluctant one at that.
She glanced at West and Cullen, already in their racks sleeping the sleep of the exhausted righteous. She wondered what was taking Hawkes and Rain -- they should be taking advantage of the lull, too. Maybe this time they'd get actually get enough sleep before the claxons went off.
She'd already gone to Ross to protest the scheduling glitch but it had done no good. They were short of squadrons, it was as simple as that. And now, with the loss of the 161st the situation was even worse. The best the Commodore could do was promise them at least eight hours of rest before sending them out again. Unless, of course, there was an emergency.
There was always an emergency.
She wondered if she could if she could manage a quick trip to the officer's lounge and access the rest of the data on McQueen that she'd failed to download the last time.
She'd almost been done -- she'd been up to his time with the 'Angels, reading the events that had led to his last promotion -- when Hawkes had stumbled in. She was annoyed even before he'd reached her. The point of her using a computer in the officers lounge instead the one in their barracks or one in the rec room was because she had needed privacy. The last thing she needed was for one of them to walk in and see what she was doing. As it was she barely had enough time to pull a shell over the information before he glanced at the screen. By the time she'd gotten him to leave they'd attracted too much attention and it had been pointless to continue. So she had put the rest aside for another time. Except she hadn't had another chance since.
She frowned again at the memory of Hawkes inviting her to the 'Tun.
She glanced at her timepiece and nixed the idea of another round with the computer. She was too tired, and her hands hurt.
Her damn hands.
Repeatedly she clenched and unclenched them, fighting the pain, fighting for strength and flexibility.
The doctors had told her she was pushing it, that even with the marvels of twenty-first century medicine, second and third-degree burns still needed time to heal, and that her strained body needed more time to recover. They were wrong --- her hands were fine. The flesh and skin had grown back almost perfectly. Sure they were still a little tender, but they were whole, and they were hers. What they needed was toughening up, not pampering. And what was still broken they couldn't fix with their damn machines or multi-colored pills.
Besides, one more psych-evaluation and she'd really have gone insane.
She grabbed the bottle of lotion from out her locker, then sat at the edge of her bunk and twisted the cap off. This was the one concession she allowed herself. A crack on her skin now would be dangerous. And she might be stubborn, but she wasn't stupid.
The hand that came into view was large, very capable-looking.
Jordan Rain should have been a healer. His hands on hers were gentle, using enough pressure to work the lotion into her skin without hurting her. When she had mentioned it before he had merely grinned and said that his people were used to being both warriors and healers. Balance, he had said, was the key.
That was one of the things her old shrinks had said was wrong with her.
"Displaced," one shrink had said.
"Imbalanced," said another.
She'd beaten them all. They'd been so proud of themselves when she'd passed their six-month test. The truth was she had been tired of all of it anyway, and she had been three months away from being seventeen -- her next conviction would be as an adult. Again, she might have been crazy, but she wasn't stupid. Besides, it had made her parents happy.
So she had learned control. She had learned to smile and make polite conversation. She'd taken her equivalency test early and gone on to graduate with honors from Florida State at 21. Two days before her 23rd birthday, she had joined the United States Marine Corps.
"There's not enough aloe vera in this lotion," Rain complained, bringing Morgan back to the present. "And I keep telling you to wear heavier gloves."
"And I keep telling you you're not my mother," she retorted. "But there you go."
"It wouldn't kill you to use another lotion," he stated.
"I've been using this all my life," she answered. "Any other kind makes me puke."
"Hold still," he ordered, when she started to fidget. "You need this."
"I'm perfectly capable of putting a little lotion on my hands," she said. "Stop fussing."
"These are hero hands," Rain said quietly, intensely. "You have to take better care of them. Our lives depend on these hands."
She gave him a frosty look.
"Heroes are a dime a dozen in this war, Lieutenant," she stated coldly. "And you don't depend on anyone's hands but your own." She tried to pull her hand away. "That's enough," she ordered lowly. He held on.
"How sweet," a caustic voice interrupted.
They turned to find Hawkes standing at the hatch of the barracks, a mocking smile on his face.
"Did I come at a bad time?" the InVitro sneered. "Should I leave and come back later?"
For a moment Rain was confused by the implication. Then his hand tightened on hers, stifling her equally caustic reply.
"We're done," Rain said quietly. "And that's no way to talk to your Captain."
"Shane is my Captain," snapped Hawkes.
"Really?" Tyler asked, sweetly sarcastic. "You must be lost then, little boy, 'cause this is my squadron."
She returned his murderous glare with a cool look, unmoved by the barely concealed violence warring within Hawkes. Hawkes hands actually itched with his desire to throttle her. With a muffled curse, he turned away and stalked out the barracks.
"At least he remembered not to slam the door," commented Rain, glancing at West and Cullen who had slept through the entire exchange. "Should I bring him back? We all need to get some sleep while we can."
She shook her head. "He'll be fine. There are empty racks all over that he can use. Besides, he's disappeared before -- he always shows up in time." She didn't tell Rain that she knew where Hawkes went in times like these, she could always find him if she really needed to.
Jordan replaced the cap on the bottle and returned it to her locker. "This has to stop, Morgan," he told her, quietly. "We can't spare the energy."
"I don't know about that," she answered noncommittally. "Hawkes and West seem to have a reserve specifically for being difficult."
"Because you keep baiting them," he pointed out. "Whatever it is, Morgan, whatever you've got against them, especially Cooper, you've got to get past it. Get over it."
She shrugged off the comforting hand he tried to place on her shoulder. "I'm just doing my job, Lieutenant, and making sure he does his. If he can't handle it then he shouldn't be here."
"You've had it in for him from the word go. And frankly, I don't understand. He's a good guy. You know that. He's taken everything you've thrown at him."
"And you think that excuses his insubordination?"
He shook his head. "It's not that," he repeated. "I don't know what it is, but it's not that."
She sighed, too tired to be openly exasperated. "Look, Lieutenant, no matter what I do, I still won't be the one they want here" she told him, calmly. "I know that, they know that. So I might as well do things my way."
This was one of the things he most respected about her, the honesty, no matter how twisted the logic behind it. "Maybe they're thinking the same thing as you," he pointed out quietly. "That they'll never be who you want them to be, so they might as well do things their way."
"That's too bad," she returned flatly. "'Cause I'm the one who gets to choose, not them. The sooner they accept that the better."
Rain shook his head. "Morgan, you're the Captain. You're who we get our cues from. It's up to you. Whatever it takes, you've got to pull this team together."